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Listen to us, Tony; hear our theories

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By GARY SHELTON

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 21, 2001


TAMPA -- Okay, Tony. Here's what you need to do.

You need to walk onto the field, your chin level, your eyes focused. You need to walk to the 50-yard line and look this way, that way. You need to take a deep breath and concentrate.

Then you need to blow a gasket.

You need to unfold your arms and flex. You need to kick dirt onto a referee. You need to release the beast that you have kept inside your chest for all these years and let it growl.

You need to yell and holler and throw such a tantrum that the veins in your neck look like first-down markers. You need smoke under your collar and blood in your eyes. Somewhere, you need Vince Lombardi to turn to Woody Hayes and say, "Did you get a load of that guy?"

Of course, that's only one theory.

There are others.

Around here, we have plenty of theories to go around. Everyone has an idea of what is wrong with the Bucs and how to cure it. We have answers and remedies and advice. In the middle, there are opinions.

What Tony Dungy needs to do, really needs to do, is run the ball more. Also, he needs to throw it deep more. He needs to use Warrick Dunn, Mike Alstott and Dave Moore better. Also, he needs more screen passes. And more double-reverses. And more touchdowns. Definitely more touchdowns. Defensively, he needs more blitzes, tighter coverage, better tackling. He needs a better pregame speech. A louder one.

Oh, also, Dungy needs to do this:

He needs to win.

At the bottom of the frustration, at the core of the perceptions, fans can agree on this: The Bucs aren't winning enough. If they are to escape from a mediocre start without blood spattering on the walls, that is the basic change needed. Two-and-two is treading water. If it keeps up, someone is going to drown.

For the record, Dungy still believes in a happy ending.

"I think we're going to play a little bit better every week," Dungy said. "We'll hit our stride and get going and win a lot of games. I think we'll win the Central Division title and go to the playoffs. What happens in the playoffs, I don't know."

For Dungy's sake, you hope he has turned into Nostradamus. Four games, and the whispers have begun. It's starting to sound like a saloon in Dodge City, if you want to know the truth. Malcolm the Silent hasn't said a word, but already, fans are grumbling.

It's hard to see Dungy surviving a season that does not involve playoffs. But would reaching the playoffs be enough? What record would satisfy the Glazers? What record should?

Inside the Bucs' training facility, inside the main building, inside a small coach's office, someone is attempting to get inside Dungy. He sits back on a chair, seemingly relaxed. Still, the season seems to be wearing on him, too.

"I'm disappointed," Dungy said. "I'm disappointed we're not 4-0. I think we had an opportunity to do that. Games that slip away usually come back to haunt you somewhere down the road."

Dungy, like the rest of us, is looking for the missing element that separates the Bucs from the elite of the league. He, too, has sorted through the theories.

For instance, there is the Expectations Are Too High Theory that those who plead for patience would use.

"I would never say the expectations are too high," Dungy said. "You expect to be perfect, to win every game and go to the Super Bowl. I wouldn't say they expect too much. I'd say they've seen too little. You don't want people to be satisfied with a 10-6 record."

Okay. But how about The Bucs Peaked In The NFC Title Game Theory? Walking off the field, wouldn't you have expected this team to grow into something more fierce by now?

"To answer that honestly," Dungy said, "every year is different. Just because you win 12 games one year doesn't mean anything on opening day the next year. I remember going to the '84 AFC title game (as the Steelers' defensive coordinator) against Miami and thinking we would be back several more times, and we never made it back. Miami made it to the Super Bowl that year, and you would have thought they would have five or six more chances for Dan Marino, and he never made it back."

The most common accusation made against Dungy is the vague He Doesn't Play to Win, He Plays Not to Lose Theory.

"I think I know what that means," Dungy said, smiling. "It's the perception of how we should be playing. But if you play not to lose and win, that's good. If you play to win and lose, that's bad. It still comes back to whether you lose.

"It's human nature to think, 'I could do this job better. I have all the answers.' I could tell (President) Bush what to do and what he's doing wrong. Or the mayor or the superintendent of public schools. The reality is that you don't know their jobs and you aren't privy to all the information they are. I don't know everything that goes into it. I don't know enough to have a reasonable opinion. But I do. That's just the way it is. That's why people watch."

Is there something to the This Team Isn't as Hungry Theory? Or the Free Agency Ate My Chemistry Theory? Or the Success Has Spoiled the Bucs Theory?

"I think we're as hungry," Dungy said. "There is always a difference when you start winning. Other things creep into the picture. It becomes more 'We're winning, but I also want to get paid.' Or 'We're winning, but my free agency year is coming up.' That's human nature, too. But we have good veteran leadership. I believe our focus is winning.

"I think the free agents are an easy excuse to make. I think Rich (McKay) has done a good job of bringing in guys who are used to winning. Success? I don't think it's that, because in my mind, we haven't had that much success. We've gotten the team where it should have been, but I don't think we've reached the point where we can kick back and say we're successful."

How about the Dungy Is Standing In the Way Theory? How much of the blame for a sputtering start lies with the coaching staff?

"It's like asking what kind of student you are after one test," Dungy said. "But right now, the coaching is just like the team. Average. We haven't played consistently every week, and that's my job, to get us to."

And the Does Anyone Recognize This Team Theory? Four games, and we still don't know who the Bucs are. A running team? A passing team? A .500 team?

"Teams create their own identities," Dungy said. "I don't think this one has done it yet. I think it will be a team that will play hard and not make many mistakes."

How about the old Bucs, the punishing running team that played field position and defense?

"We did that because we thought it was our best opportunity to be successful," Dungy said. "As a coach, you have to play to your strengths. I believe in fundamentals. That's what I try to preach. People take that to mean, 'Never throw, never take chances.' But that's not it."

So, anything to The Bucs Miss Herm Edwards and Lovie Smith Hypothesis?

"We miss them," Dungy said. "The same way we miss Martin Mayhew, and Rufus Porter, and Tony Mayberry. You always miss good people. But did we miss a tackle on third and 5 because we miss Lovie? Lovie didn't make a lot of tackles on third and 5."

Yeah? How about the Dungy Is Too Mild To Control the Locker Room Theory? Actually, this is a remake of an old accusation by those frustrated by Dungy's calmness. The thing is, if you watch him, Dungy isn't always calm. The officials, it seems, drive him crazy. Still, it seems that fans would prefer a little less reason and a little more rant.

It might surprise you, then, to see Dungy when he watches sports on television. Yes, he said, he has thrown the remote control. Yes, he has slammed his fist on the table. Yes, he has yelled, "What are you doing?"

Eight, 10 times a game, Dungy says he feels the same frustration build on the sideline. It is by choice he doesn't turn it loose.

"You make a decision not to," he said. "My job is to make the next play go better. There are times I have to remind myself of that with the officials. If they make a call that I think is misinterpreted, I can be out of whack for the next few plays. That doesn't help us win. That doesn't help me make the call on the next play."

Fortunately for Dungy, he has the rest of us. To point out that Keyshawn is open in the flat. That Jacquez runs really fast. That maybe a draw play on third and 11 isn't the best idea.

Hey, Tony. We're here for you. Good luck. Break a leg.

Um, if you want to make people happy, maybe it shouldn't be your own leg.

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